*** Please note that this article lists general recommendations that can never substitute your doctor's or other healthcare provider's opinion. Please make sure to obtain their clearance before engaging in any exercise or strenuous activity. *** The woman in the picture had her second baby 2.5 months ago. She also had a particularly difficult time after what was planned as a routine C-section. Recovery was much longer than the 6 weeks that doctor's often list as a good amount of time for women to wait before engaging in postpartum exercise after a c-section. But she braved it impressively and now only another 8 weeks later we did a first postpartum session since her daughter was born.
Before her c-section we trained 2- 3 times per week up until a few weeks before the birth and well into the third trimester, with a belly that was creating discomfort and even pain - when her pelvis sunk on one side and was pressing on the sciatic nerve and caused the leg to swell up with extra blood.
One thing that she kept saying throughout was that exercise (that was always tailored to her daily form, trimester and became less intense as the pregnancy progressed) had multiple emotional and psychological benefits for her. It eased the tension on one leg, it alleviated back pain caused by the weight gain and it always left her less tired after, than she had been before. Plus with a big smile on her face.
This particular example has taught me, as a health and fitness provider, 5 very important things about how to approach postpartum exercise after a C-section:
- I can't stress it enough: the exercise before birth has incredibly beneficial effects on the exercise after. Women who stay active before a c-section, recover faster and once they go back to working out, their body remembers and can re-enter on a higher fitness level as well as motivational level than if the last workout was over 9 months ago.
- After having an open wound, jumping into exercising too quickly will do you no good. Just like exercise is being tapered down with each trimester, you have to build up again, too. Athletes reduce their amounts of workouts before a big event and afterwards they take a break and then ease into it again. You have nothing to prove to anyone and the added stress of caring for a newborn will most likely have you running around as is.
- I like to create programs that focus on body areas that were under a lot of stress during the pregnancy before zeroing in on the core. I know all women want is to get a flat stomach and their core strength back but there are other areas that have had a lot of work to do and continue to, such as the arms, back, legs and hips. Focusing on these areas first, can give the stomach some more rest but works the cardio-vascular system and speeds up the metabolism.
- Partner exercises are a great thing to do both for strength workouts as well as relaxation and stretching. If you have had a long day and didn't make it to yoga or didn't have time to fit in a workout, take 20 minutes in the evening with your partner. Once the baby is asleep, you can challenge each other to some partner squats, some plank high fives and finish up in a partner stretch such as this one:
- Relax: after a c-section you are healing from a big operation. On top of being tired, getting less sleep than before, your body has to heal multiple layers of tissue. For that, it needs time and especially recovery time. Make exercise part of your day in walks, taking stairs, and playing with your baby. If you can, take a few minutes a day to sit still, have me-time, meditate, enjoy a cup of tea, reflect, journal or day dream. It will give you so much more strength to deal with everything else that is happening around you, including exercise.
I wish you well.